A tres leches or three-milk cake is so called because it is a sponge cake, or butter cake soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. It is thought to have originated in Europe and can be compared roughly to a British trifle or an Italian tiramisu, as it is soft, creamy and rich but not soggy.
The tres leches cake is a popular dessert in Latin America, possibly because the ingredients appeared on a tin of Nestle Condensed Milk which was widely distributed in the region in the 1930s. The cake is popular all over the Americas, as well as the Caribbean and parts of Europe.
Preheat your oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F), grease and flour a 9x13 inch loose-bottomed cake tin. Cream the room-temperature butter and one cup of sugar together, beating the eggs together with half a tsp of vanilla extract and beat well with an electric mixture until combined.
Sift the flour and baking powder together and gently fold into the mixture, then beat on the slowest speed until soft peaks form. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, poking holes into the cake while it bakes. The sponge cake is ready when an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Remove and leave to cool on a wire rack.
Whip together the whole milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk. Place the cake into a large bowl and pour the milk mixture slowly over the top of the cooled sponge cake, letting the cake soak up as much as possible. Spoon the excess milk over the top until most of it is absorbed by the sponge. Use coconut milk instead of the evaporated milk for a Caribbean variant.
For the whipped topping, beat the whipping cream, remaining sugar and vanilla extract together until it's thick and stands up in peaks. Spread liberally over the top of your three-milk cake, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
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